PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Having averted a crisis over its brief detention of 10 US Navy personnel, Iran has returned to preparations for the implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal and the removal of US and European sanctions.
On Thursday, senior Iranian negotiator Hamid Baeidinejad proclaimed the “last station” in the talks, with Implementation Day “looming”. The statement reinforced earlier declarations by the Iranian Foreign Ministry that the announcement of implementation, following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s verification of Iranian compliance, will be Saturday or Sunday.
The spokesman of the Atomic Energy Agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, reiterated that a condition of the deal, the removal of the core of the Arak heavy-water reactor, had been completed. The step eliminates the possibility of plutonium by-product, which can be used in a militarized nuclear program.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials had indicated that implementation was imminent. Announcement of the Arak core removal followed last month’s confirmation that Tehran had shipped almost all enriched uranium out of the country, and that it was reducing the number of uranium centrifuges from about 19,000 to just over 6,000.
However, these steps were overtaken on Tuesday by the seizure of the US Navy sailors and their two boats, following an incursion into Iranian territorial waters blamed on a technical problem. The Revolutionary Guards said the personnel had to be questioned about a possible intelligence-gathering mission.
Five phone calls between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif quickly tried to prevent any escalation of the dispute. The Revolutionary Guards released the sailors and boats on Wednesday, while proclaiming a triumph over the American enemy.
Tehran’s urgency in resolving the episode — and thus the Rouhani Government prevailing over any consideration by the Guards of holding the US personnel — appeared to stem from the economic necessity of sanctions removal. The restrictions have cut Iran’s oil exports by almost 40%, prevented financial transactions, and limited trade and investment.
Facing a large deficit, the Government has delayed submission of its 2016/17 budget and Development Plan for 2016-2020. On Wednesday, a Cabinet meeting decided that both will “likely be submitted to Parliament after the JCPOA’s [nuclear deal’s] implementation”.